Manhunter (Mann, 1986)

Manhunter, like a cropped, beautifully shot nightmare, revels in both audio and visual overload, losing itself in the mania of it’s characters. Mann uses the images of mirrors, windows, chrome buildings, blue reflective light as if he were conducting a symphony of horrors in the head of multiple madmen, both good and evil. This is the turning point for Mann as a director, shifting from the genre amateur hour of Thief and The Keep to a the contained, polished quest for sanity in a world gone insane (later to come…Last of the Mohicans and Collateral in terms of this theme). Manhunter follows Will Graham (William Peterson long before CSI), an F.B.I. agent who has a knack for catching serial killers. He’s after the Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan will scare the shit out of you!!), a predator targeting whole families. Mann uses his now familiar wide angle two shots in order to set up a seemingly shape-shifting world (we see the stasis of the final image and breath a sigh of relief). Manhunter also displays an off kilter attempt at parallel dream sequences, one by Will when he tries to “see” the POV of the killer and one by the killer himself when he witnesses a supposed girlfriend have an innocent interaction with another man. Both are heightened responses, but Will’s is a breakthrough and the Tooth Fairy’s can be seen as a way of life, an even more frightening indication of his psychosis. Mann’s emphasis on dreams, nightmares and the mythologies these experiences create (The Red Dragon, the tiger, the countless scenes of characters filmed in bed) makes up the key motif for Manhunter as a film. It’s a serial killer picture, but also a calculated tap dance between fractured personalities who happen to be on different sides of the law. And Brian Cox’s sleek Hannibal Lecktor (spelled wrong in the credits for some reason) has only a few scenes, but makes quite an impression. Interestingly, Mann never shows the actual bodies of the victims, except in photographs. It’s as if The Tooth Fairy and Graham, even though each represents very different mentalities, exist on a higher plane, the audience merely hoping to catch a glimpse of the horrific game of cat and mouse taking place before our eyes. One of the great psychological thrillers and a truly scary experience.

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